When the The Hunger Games first came out I devoured it, then gave it to my 16-year-old son. He thought the book was “awesome,” and we bought each of the next two as soon as they came out. Each time he had more enthusiastic reviews.
I couldn’t find time to read the last two myself until recently. (So many books, so little time, and damn that full time job! The one that actually pays the bills.) I’m glad it took my so long, though. It would have been agony to wait between Catching Fire and Mocking Jay.
By now I’m sure almost anyone reading this knows the premise of the series by Suzanne Collins. Katniss lives in District 12, which, like all the other districts, suffers under the oppression of The Capitol. Her father died in a coal mining accident, like many others in the district, and she is the main supporter of her family.
Residents have learned to withstand the lack of food, freedom, adequate shelter, and warmth in the winter. Katniss and her best friend Gale hunt illegally in the forest to help feed their families. Life isn’t good, but it’s survivable.
But every year The Capitol holds the Hunger Games, where two children, a boy and a girl, are chosen to represent their district in a battle to the death. Only one of the 24 is allowed survive each year, and they will survive by pitting their wits, strength, and determination against both the other contestants and the sadistic game planner who uses his imagination to set the environment against them.
When Katniss’ little sister Prim is chosen for the games during the reaping ceremony Katniss steps up to volunteer in her place. Peeta, a baker’s son, is chosen as the boy.
You root for Katniss and Peeta. But you also root for Rue and others, and you morn for not only the children who die, but for the spark of humanity that dies even within the winners. Especially within the winners.
It’s all broadcast on TV across the districts, and people are glued to it. You wonder how much of their cheering is to please the capitol and how much is voyeuristic pleasure, the same kind we get from watching the bachelorette get her heart crushed by some cad on reality TV. Humanity is lost from the audience as well.
The book is full of death and blood and gore. It’s horrible! And you can’t stop reading. You can’t stop hoping that somehow good will prevail. And if you are like me, you are ever so glad that it’s only fiction, even if the concepts behind it are as human as any of us – war, dominance, selfishness, self-sacrifice, voyeurism, love, hate.
Katniss is complex, a survivor at all costs. Peeta knows the value of his humanity, and he will not give it up lightly. Even the shallow Capitol characters, who dress and design Katniss for her televised appearances, have a depth about them that makes us care what happens to them.
Collins has created within The Hunger Games books a war of extreme brutality, and she’s done it in a way that makes us reflect on our own actions and values. How would we behave if forced to battle other innocents for survival? Are we as bad as the Capitol residents when we sit glued to reality TV munching chips and reveling in the pain of others?
The best books hold your attention while you read them, but more than that they make you think about them long afterwards. The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay are that kind of books.